The three of them, Naito, Airi and Jin-woon were sitting in the living room and were trying to process everything that had happened until now. Naito was still narrating what Airi’s brother had told him, explaining the situation as clearly as he could. It was very difficult for him to understand the lengths to which a sibling would go, in order to protect another sibling. Naito was a single child, and had never experienced the emotion of brotherly love or care. It was kind of sad to see a person like him fall into a coma, and other people who were a weight to society being well and healthy. Life is indeed very cruel. Airi was shocked from what she was hearing, and needed time to accept the events of the last days. Jin-woon was listening carefully, amazed by the luck he had, to be present to such a unique situation and relieved, because his friends had come back safe and sound.
“Airi-chan, I’m sorry to ask you but..how did your brother get into a coma?”
Airi looked at Naito.
“He already told you, didn’t he?”
Naito nodded, confirming what she said.
“I haven’t talked about this matter to anybody until now. It is kind of a.. sensitive matter. I haven’t even said his name all this time. But it’s also the first time in my life that people show honest interest in my life, and I want to share it with you. Maybe telling you will alleviate the pain. He, Akihiko, has been a model son for my parents, who paid attention only to what he was doing. He was doing so well in everything, that they didn’t have the need for the accomplishments of their second child. And that was working just perfect for me, because I hadn’t realized it - they were so happy all the time, and I thought that I may have been also at least a part of the reasons why they were so happy.
They were never that close to me, but affection was never something that I was missing: First of all because of my numerous “friends”, but mostly because of my brother. Somehow he was there for me when I needed something, like he was looking after me from afar, and appeared when I couldn’t do something, like getting a toy from a high self, cooking dinner when my parents weren’t around, giving me allowance when my parents forgot to, help me with studying and tests an so on. It was one of these times that he was trying to help me, that this horrible thing happened.
I was out shopping with friends at the city mall. I don’t know why, but he was also somewhere there, without me knowing. Except us, there was another group of girls in the mall, who didn’t really like me, because from what I found out later, two of them had a crush on my brother, and they thought that I wasn’t good enough to be his sister, and were envious that I was living in the same house as him. When we were walking towards the escalator to go to the floor under us, this group of girls came very close to ours, and one of them thought that it would be very fun to...push me down the escalator.”
“You’re joking, right? What kind of teenager would think to do something like this? And how would it even help them? Your brother would hate them if they hurt you anyway!” said Jin-woon, frantic.
“They had no chance with Akihiro, and they knew it. They just wanted to take their frustration out to somebody, and I was the perfect target. They hated my guts and since there was no possibility they would ever come even near my brother, they just wanted to inflict pain on others” Explained Airi, looking at Jin-woon with eyes full of care, like she was staring at her own little brother.
“So, from what my friends told me afterwards, Akihiko had heard the girls talking some meters behind us, and realized what was about to happen. He just made it on time when I had just put my foot on the first step of the escalator, and when the girls tried to push me all together at once to fall down to the ground. Akihiko grabbed my arm, pulled me back on the floor, falling on these stupid girls, while he was falling uncontrollably down the escalator steps and hitting his head very hard. I didn’t see it happen; I could only hear people screaming and a very loud thud when he hit his head. The moment I realized what had happened, I stood up, saw him lying on the floor below ours in a puddle of blood and then I had my first panic attack. We were both hospitalized, but only I woke up. My family was devastated by this event. My parents couldn’t accept reality for a long time. I asked my friends not to tell my parents what had happened that day. Why Akihiko did it, and that everything was my fault. I was horrified to face their judgment, the nemesis that would befall me for that sin of mine.”
“Akihiko never considered anything from all this your fault. He insisted that I put that well in your head. You have to understand that his choices in his life were 100% his own. Just respect that he was such a good brother to you and cared about you with deep honesty, and admire his persistence and courage. If you keep blaming yourself, you are dishonoring him.”
“I bet that’s not something that her brother said, isn’t it?” smiled Jin-woon at Naito. Naito just turned his head to the other side, embarrassed.
“I still cannot accept that I have zero responsibility for this. He was doing so many things for me, and I never tried to even help him with anything.”
“You did by being a good kid, Airi-chan. You may not understand, but when a family has many children, conflicts are created all the time. Even if your parents didn’t care about what you did, as you say, you never complained or tried to get their attention by doing outrageous things like most teenagers. You did well, Airi-chan.” Jin-woon tried to be as comforting as possible, being completely honest with what he was saying. He could relate to such situations from his own experiences with his big family.
“I think Jin-woon is right. Akihiko tried to protect you and put all his might even in that state. Be grateful for what he did and feel proud you have such a wonderful brother. The only thing he wanted was you to be happy, surrounded by honest people who you can lean on at all times, and who stay by your side because they want to keep you in their lives. He wasn’t able to relax until that happened. That’s why he was keeping an eye on you even when you were out with friends. It wasn’t a coincidence that he was at the mall that day.”
“Well, I think he can rest assured now that she made such a good start with you and me, right?” asked Jin-woon with a huge smile on his face. All three laughed.
Airi sighed and tried to keep her cool. Then her phone rang.
“Who is it at this time? From work?” asked Airi, troubled.
She picked up her phone, seeing her father’s name on the screen.
Naito and Jin-woon were staring at her while she had the phone on her ear, replying distantly and coldly with single words. Then she froze. And her phone fell on the ground. Jin-woon jumped from his seat and went to her immediately. Airi’s eyes were wide open and she was breathing heavily being completely motionless. Naito stood up too.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Jin-woon was looking at Airi’s eyes, having grabbed her shoulders with his hands, trying to make her at least react.
“Airi?” turned Naito to her with a concerned look.
She finally moved her dry eyes, which had started to tear up.
“My .. brother..” managed Airi to say, before she started crying her eyes out.
The boys didn’t need to hear anything else. They knew exactly what happened. It seemed that Akihiko finally completed his mission, and could at last rest from his torturing 7-year-long sleep.
First Jin-woon hugged Airi as tight as he could, and then followed Naito with a hesitant but full of care embrace. They stayed like this until dawn.
The sunlight was breaking the dim darkness from inside the living room. Airi had fallen asleep while crying, and Jin-woon with Naito just kept an eye on her.
“You can go if you want, Jin-woon. I will stay here until she wakes up and then go home too. We both need to rest.”
“I don’t want to leave her alone.”
“We cannot stay all day here. I understand that you are concerned, but she needs her space. After she has calmed down a little bit, we can meet again. She’s strong, and she has to remain strong. She has to deal with it on her own.”
“I guess you’re right, Senpai. You know indeed much.”
Naito shook his head, tired of denying Jin-woon’s praise. He had just accepted the term “Senpai” and tried to neglect his compliments by looking on the opposite side.
“Airi-chan needs her time to get used to the idea of what happened, right? I will not be a burden to that. It must have been very rough on her. At least she managed to make two good friends from all this - since Lucid Dreaming was what brought you two together, and me afterwards. But, Senpai.. You never told me the reason why you had started Lucid Dreaming..”
Naito frowned for a moment. He had no intention of telling something like this to anyone. But the recent events have proved that not saying something may be worse than just getting it out. So, in Naito’s mind, confessing to Jin-woon was his way of saying “thank you” for what he did for them.
“You see, Jin-woon, I lost my mother when I was still a child. Somebody killed her in broad daylight in front of my eyes. This had been hunting me for many years, and I had constant nightmares which I couldn’t get out of my head. I was seeing the same scene, again and again. I wanted it to stop. And I wanted the dream to change. There were times when I could even feel rage against this lowly creature who stabbed a mother in front of her child, only in order to steal her handbag. There were times when I wanted to inflict pain to this person. Just take revenge.
After I started practicing Lucid Dreaming, I kind of forgot about my ulterior motive, and concentrated on achieving my goal - having complete control over my dreams. And while I was exploring the realm of my own dreams, I discovered more and more exciting things that I could do. Until this whole thing started. After the talk I had with Akihiko, I came to realize many things about life. You know what? Yes, I can recreate that nightmare. Yes, I can change how it ends. I can even go to that guy and stab him instead. Or make him suffer until he begs me to kill him. But how would that be helpful for my life? What Akihiko told me was that:
Don’t linger on things that already happened. Past will never change, no matter what we do, how hard we think of situations over and over again in our heads. Past will stay as it is, as a part of our life. We have to accept it as an irreplaceable part of ourselves and embrace it. What’s important is how we will keep it up from there. How we view the experiences we gained, and how we will use them to make our valuable life better and more beautiful. Because there is only one life we get to live.”